NBA free agency: 30 greatest free agent signings in NBA history

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(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /
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NBA Free Agency
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Greatest free agency signings in NBA history: 8. Tom Chambers- Phoenix Suns, 1988

I could use this space to talk about Tom Chambers’ three All-Star appearances as a member of the Phoenix Suns. I could talk about his 20.6 scoring average, or his 17.9 PER, .136 WS/48, or his minor role in helping the Suns reach the NBA Finals (though that had more to do with league MVP Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson, and Dan Majerle).

But in the grand scheme of things, that pales in comparison to the impact he had on player empowerment.

Taken eighth overall by the then-San Diego Clippers in the 1981 draft, Chambers spent two seasons with the Clippers before they traded him to the Seattle SuperSonics. He played in Seattle for five seasons, earning one All-Star appearance in that time, but following the 1987-88 season, Seattle appeared to be moving in a more youthful direction.

Seeing the writing on the wall, Chambers figured he would be re-signed and traded by the team. After all, he didn’t have many choices at the time (h/t Matt Peterson,

"“There was no such thing as free agency,” Chambers said. “If a team had you, then you had to sign with that team unless they traded you. You really couldn’t move. There was no movement at all. Therefore, contracts were kind of locked into what you could make.”"

Before Chambers agreed to any sort of terms with the Sonics, then-NBA Players Union head Larry Fleisher called Chambers’ agent and had him advise Chambers to hold off on inking a new deal as they, according to Chambers, were “going to get this unrestricted free agency thing done”.

Shortly thereafter, it became official: players who accrued at least seven years of service time and played through at least two contracts were eligible to hit the open market and sell their services to the most suitable bidder. For Chambers, that was the Suns, making him the first beneficiary of this new NBA marketplace.